Jay-Z | 4:44 | Kontrol Album Review

Jay-Z |  4:44 | Kontrol Album Review

For a moment, let’s all take this time to reflect on an incident that took place in an elevator, “not that one.” An incident that most of us have tried to forget, “not that one either.” But a moment that has given us three of the best albums in the past year or two, remember this…

A moment when Jay-Z admits he “almost went Eric Benét” and “let the baddest girl in the world get away” as he raps on the opening track ‘Kill Jay-Z’. This incident caused a Tidal wave in streams, pun intended, providing us with a Solange album nobody knew we needed. A timeless classic with amazing content for Beyoncé on Lemonade. Now Jay-Z’s 12th solo project and 13th studio album, “4:44.” We’ve put it in the lab and will dissect and breakdown some of the best bars from each track as we go deeper into each song.

4:44 | The Title

A lot of people are wondering why he decided to name this album 4:44. From putting together all sorts of numbers and conspiracies such as birthdays and even tried to tie it to a movie called “4:44 Last Day on Earth.” But it wasn’t that deep. It was quite simple, Jay-Z woke up at 4:44 am and called Guru, his engineer, to record.

Promotion

Starting off with the promotion. We’ve seen Beyoncé change the game as far as promoting goes, dropping her self-titled album ‘Beyoncé’ in 2013 straight to iTunes with absolutely no promotion. She then drops ‘Lemonade’ and makes a documentary to help promote. Now with Jay-Z’s ‘4:44’ album he’s taken a similar approach. Using a subtle but very noticeable approach to his advertising. As 4:44 signs proceeded to pop up all over New York billboards fans began to speculate. Then rumors started to swirl of a new Jay-Z album dropping soon or at least a “response” to ‘Lemonade’. When we got a trailer for the promoted 4:44 billboards it seemed as though it would be a feature film as the trailer starred three of the best actors out, Mahershala Ali, Lupita Nyong’o, and Danny Glover. While talks of a visual album are still in the works the advertisement proved to be for Hovs’ 12th solo album, titled 4:44. Jay-Z, paired with Tidal and Sprint, dropped the album exclusively to Tidal and Sprint users only. Now a week later and already a Platinum album Jay-Z has released 4:44 on all platforms for the world to hear.

The Lab – Welcome to the Kontrol Review Lab. Here we break down each track by content and highlight each track stand out bars.

Track 1 – ‘Kill Jay Z’

The album is led off by a track called ‘Kill Jay-Z,’ which speaks more on killing his ego than killing Jay-Z. He starts by talking to his self, saying “you’ll never be enough, let’s keep it real Jay Z.” Basically speaking to his career saying no matter how great he is and no matter what he does it’ll never be enough. He then goes on to speak about shooting his brother at the age of 12 while talking about having a daughter and doing better by her because he had no father. His word play on this track is nothing short of greatness and only gets better as the track goes on. He reflects on selling drugs to people he loved as he (Jay-Z) got high on life and the riches it brought him. Jay then spits some of his best bars and wordplay as the content pertained to Kanye West. Saying

“You walkin’ around like you invincible
You dropped outta school, you lost your principles
I know people backstab you, I felt bad too
But this ‘fuck everybody’ attitude ain’t natural
But you ain’t a saint, this ain’t kumbaye
But you got hurt because you did cool by ‘Ye
You gave him 20 million without blinkin’
He gave you 20 minutes on stage, fuck was he thinkin’?

These next 8 bars speak towards Kanye West, by saying “you dropped outta school, you lost your principles” that’s referencing Kanye’s album ‘College Dropout’ not a diss just letting you know who he’s talking about. He then talks about Kanye’s rant at a concert at the end of last year. It appears Jay and Ye had some sort of business deal worked out where Jay helped (maybe loaned) Kanye $20 million to help his touring during his financial struggles that Kanye tweeted about. At the concert Ye then brought up Jay and B and how he felt betrayed and back stabbed. The word play gets better when Hov says “you ain’t a saint, this ain’t kumbaye.” Kanye recently had a son and named him Saint and said Ye, “isn’t that” says Jay, playing off Kanye’s name Ye in KumbaYe. You can see why Kim K felt some type of way about these bars. As the track goes on he speaks on the Solange incident in the elevator saying

“ Let go your ego over your right shoulder
Your left is sayin’, “Finish your breakfast!”
You egged Solange on
Knowin’ all along, all you had to say you was wrong
You almost went Eric Benét
Let the baddest girl in the world get away
I don’t even know what else to say
Nigga, never go Eric Benét!
I don’t even know what you woulda done
In the Future, other niggas playin’ football with your son”

Once again, word play is great along with the content giving us insight to that day in the elevator. With Eric Benet responding to his name being dropped saying
And Jay-Z also takes a subtle shot at Future “losing” Ciara to Russell Wilson and him playing football with his son. More on this later.

Track 2 – ‘The Story of O.J.’ ft. Nina Simone

The track that has taken the airwaves by storm, even the club scene surprisingly, The Story of O.J. assisted by Nina Simone. This track has been the most discussed and quoted track off the album with lines like “I’m trying to give you a million dollars worth of game for $9.99” and “yall on the gram holding money to your ear, there’s a disconnect we don’t call that money over here” which we’ll talk about in a minute. I’ll first shine a light on the sampling of Nina Simone singing in the background, over the produced No ID track. Her lyrics and her voice blends with the tempo and mood of the track. Not just in a musical way but as in content as well. Her lyrics are hard to make out to some due to production, singing

“Skin is, skin, is
Skin black, my skin is black
My, black, my skin is yellow”

followed by the chorus

“Light nigga, dark nigga, faux nigga, real nigga
Rich nigga, poor nigga, house nigga, field nigga
Still nigga, still nigga
I like that second one”
x2

 

Follows in line with each other saying, no matter what the complexion of your skin is and no matter what your social class is as a black man, you’re still a nigga to them. For decades, black people have separated ourselves from each other by the complexion of our skin. “Team light skin” and “team dark skin” is just a modern-day example of the division we put between us which goes back to “house niggas” and “field niggas.” I won’t go too deep into this as I could get off track but he speaks on the clear segregation we bring amongst ourselves.

 

The line “I’m no black I’m O.J… ok” is a direct quote from O.J. Simpson during an interview in the 90’s around the time of his trial. This line stays on par with the chorus still insinuating that no matter your status or social class as a black man you’re still a nigga to them. In this case O.J. tried to disconnect himself from black people and saying people don’t see color when they see him.

 

“Please don’t die over the neighborhood, that your mama rentin’

Take your drug money and buy the neighborhood that’s how you rinse it.”

This line speaks on multiple topics. The first speaking on gang banging, turf claiming and my hood vs your hood wars within the black community. We fight and kill over territory that we nor our parents own or really have any lineage or ties too aside from the current address on the mail. Instead we should come together in these communities, police our own and build it up for our future. Which leads right into the next line “take your drug and buy the neighborhood, that’s how you rinse it.” Giving game on how to not just clean your dirty money you get “rinse it” but also but back in to your community at the same time and actually own businesses in our neighborhoods.

 

“Yall on the gram holding money to your ear
There’s a disconnect, we don’t call that money over here, yeah”

 

This is the most discussed line off the album. Rappers from Lil Boosie to Future chimed in to give their opinion
on this line from Jay. The line pretty much saying the amount of money you put to your ear in IG photos isn’t “real” money, “real” meaning a lot of money. Saying that the amount of money he has could never be put to his ear. With the recent shot Hov seemed to take at Future in the opening track “Kill Jay-Z” saying

In the Future, other niggas playin’ football with your son
You woulda lost it
Thirteen bottles of Ace of Spade, what it did to Boston

Future took to his Snapchat to respond to his line about putting money to your ear with this photo and caption “U ain’t got the juice like dat. MOOD” stating what Jay says isn’t gospel. Could we get a vocal response from Future on wax?

 

Track 3 – ‘Smile’ ft. Gloria Carter (No ID produced)

 

Smile is a song saying thru the ups and downs, good and bad, always smile as he sings “bad time last turn to good memories” which is true for most. A lot of bad decisions turn out to have some of the best stories years later, so smile in the moment. Jay-Z lest us in his personal life on a level we haven’t quite seen before when he speaks about his mothers’ sexual preference. Rapping

 

“Mama had four kids, but she’s a lesbian
Had to pretend so long that she’s a thespian
Had to hide in the closet, so she medicate
Society shame and the pain was too much to take
Cried tears of joy when you fell in love
Don’t matter to me if it’s a him or her

I just wanna see you smile through all the hate”

 

This relates to so many people in today’s time. A time where homosexuality is accepted more than ever but still frowned upon in some fields such as hip-hop Jay-Z isn’t afraid to show his support for his mother. Saying it doesn’t matter to Jay whether she’s with a man or woman as long as she matters can reach a lot of people struggling to be happy and accept who they are, smile.

 

Verse 2 has a few gems in there as far as bars go. Far as draft picks, my name did not get called
Bet before I go I put a billion on the board”
saying even though he’s not a pro athlete he’ll still reach a billion dollars before he dies. He then reminds us that he made it to the hall of fame without a pen, meaning he doesn’t write his rhymes down, he memorizes them and records off the top of his head. Ending the verse with some very coach like words

“A loss ain’t a loss, it’s a lesson
Appreciate the pain, it’s a blessin’”

Verse 3 is Hov being bragadocious Hov but spits some meaningful bars as well. Rapping “so our music is ours, we only own houses” speaking to royalties and how a lot of artist don’t own their own royalties/music and only own their own homes. Also saying “oh yall thought I was washed, I’m at the cleaners” speaking to everybody who thought Jay-Z may have fell off or was “washed” up in the rap game.

Track 4 – ‘Caught Their Eyes’ ft. Frank Ocean

 

“Caught their eyes” speaks to seeing people see you. You ever been in a store or public setting and felt somebody looking at you and as soon you make eye contact or catch their eyes they look away? This song is about that in a sense about being aware of your surroundings. Frank Ocean assists on the island vibe track and actually sounds very reggae on this track which provides the perfect tone and sound. Jay starts off verse one with lines like

“I seen eyes wide as they’re about to shoot
You can be a hairpin off and you can trigger your Roots”

 

Yall body language is all remedial, how could you tell the difference between you and I?”

He also speaks on fake friends who will shoot you and show up to your funeral and hug your mother, while also reminding you “the world can see just how phony you act.” But one of my favorite lines from this track comes at the end of verse 1, where he raps

“…Invisible ink, I had to read things that wasn’t there, Memories may sneak down my cheek
But I could see a side-eye in my sleep”

That first line speaks to learning things on your own. “Invisible ink” meaning he had to figure out things that weren’t though to him or weren’t in books. Like most of us life experiences can be our “invisible ink” because a lot of what we learn comes from moments we would’ve never guessed or been taught. “Memories may sneak down my cheek” is him saying some memories can make him shed a tear, “sneak down my cheek.” The last line speaking to being able to spot a side-eye from anybody at any time.

Frank Ocean comes in with the chorus and I feel like Jay just told Frank be Frank on the hook as the lyrics for the end of the hook read,

“Solipsistic, admit it, I see you there
So it seems, so you seem
I can’t tell if you’re image or are just the flare
In my dreams, in my dreams”

Yeah, I had to sound out that word too, but after reading about it, it makes perfect sense. Solipsistic, comes from the Latin word ‘solus’ which means ‘alone’ and ipse, meaning ‘self.’ It’s a philosophical belief where you believe the only thing that’s actually real is your mind, thoughts and experiences. You believe reality is a dream, sort of. Just look it up. But it plays perfectly with the next lines saying he can’t tell if you’re real or not in his dreams. Which leads me to the rest of the song where I start to think, is what Jay is rapping real or a dream he may have had? Where he raps

“I sat down with Prince, eye to eye
He told me his wishes before he died”

Not saying this didn’t happen or couldn’t happen but going off the hook maybe it didn’t. But then he says, “they only see green from them purple eyes” speaking about Prince’s masters and estate saying Londell McMillan only wanted to profit off this tragedy as they sold tickets to walk thru his house. Then he plays a snippet of a Joseph N. Welch speech comparing the people he was talking to McMillan and his people. Link below

https://youtu.be/K1eA5bUzVjA

 

Track 5 – ‘4:44’

When producer Dion Wilson spoke on the album 4:44 he said they didn’t want to make a project with the sole purpose of responding to Beyoncé’s “Lemonade.” Jay spoke on creating the title track and had this to say

4:44 is a song that I wrote, and it’s the crux of the album, just right in the middle of the album. And I woke up, literally at 4:44 AM, to write this song. So, it became the title of the album and everything. It’s the title track because it’s such a powerful song and I just believe one of the best songs I’ve ever written.”

This is Jays apology to Beyoncé, starting the track with those exact words “look, I apologize” after which he goes into a list of things he felt he needed to address. The apologies go as far back as Beyoncé’s 21st birthday where he raps

We talked for hours when you were on tour
Please pick up the phone, pick up the phone”
Said, “Don’t embarrass me,” instead of “Be mine”
That was my proposal for us to go steady
That was your 21st birthday
You mature faster than me, I wasn’t ready”

Insinuating that instead of asking her to “be mine” as his proposal to start dating, he said “don’t embarrass me” still letting her know you’re mine and to act accordingly just in a less meaningful and borderline disrespectful way. He then goes on to rap about the miscarriage Beyoncé spoke about in her HBO documentary back in 2013.

I seen the innocence leave your eyes
I still mourn this death and
I apologize for all the stillborns
‘Cause I wasn’t present, your body wouldn’t accept it
I apologize to all the women whom I
Toyed with your emotions because I was emotionless
And I apologize ’cause at your best you are love
And because I fall short of what I say I’m all about
Your eyes leave with the soul that your body once housed”  

 

These lyrics also speak on a still born he had in a past relationship that he rapped about in 2000 on “This Can’t Be Life.” And now Jays word plays come in as he raps “At Your Best, You Are Love” is a song by the Isley Brothers which he says a line later saying, “Your EYES LEAVE” “ISLEY”

Verse 2 & 3 is more of the same. Jay apologizing and for more past mistakes he’s made and reactions to others. He raps “like men before me, I cut off my nose to spite my face” which is an old idiom about an overreaction to a problem making it worse. Jay made things worse by cheating looking for love outside of the relationship.

And if my children knew, I don’t even know what I would do
If they ain’t look at me the same
I would prob’ly die with all the shame
“You did what with who?”
What good is a ménage à trois when you have a soulmate?
“You risked that for Blue?”

At this age Blue and the new born twins aren’t aware of the marital problems between the two. But Jay fears one day they could go online and read about his mistakes and start to think differently of him. Right now, they would view him as a superhero or some fictional character who could do no wrong. Reading about his infidelities could change that as he raps

My heart breaks for the day I have to explain my mistakes
And the mask goes away, and Santa Claus is fake
And you go online and see
For Blue’s tooth, the tooth fairy didn’t pay”

Saying that one day children figure out their parents playing not just Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy but also pretending as if they are perfect human beings when they aren’t.

Track 6 – ‘Family Feud’ ft. Beyoncé

The track starts off with Jay talking about his best friend shown in the picture, Vegas. He took a 13-year charge and was released from prison in 2010. Jay then raps

Super Bowl goals
My wife in the crib feedin’ the kids liquid gold
We in a whole different mode”

Referring to Beyoncé’s Super Bowl performance and his wife breastfeeding. The first stage of breastfeeding is usually referred to as “liquid gold”

He ends the verse with some words for the older generation of hip-hop when it comes to this new generation of Rap

And old niggas, y’all stop actin’ brand new
Like 2Pac ain’t have a nose ring too, huh”

With all the back lash this generation of rappers have received for their choice of style, Jay reminds everybody that Pac also pushed the boundaries by wearing a nose ring.

The song is structured where verse 2 comes right back with no hook and slight vocals from Beyoncé in the background. He leads it off with some Steve Harvey word playing

Nobody wins when the family feuds
But my stash can’t fit into Steve Harvey’s suit”

With Steve Harvey being the host of Family Feud and Jay playing on the word “stash” as in Steve Harvey’s mustache that he’s known for but using stash as in his money being too much to fit in one of Steve’s classic suits.

What’s better than one billionaire? Two (two)
‘Specially if they’re from the same hue as you”

This line speaks to Jay and Diddy becoming the first Billionaires but instead of making it a race or competition he says two billionaires from the same Hue is better. Which leads to his Cîroc shout out at the end of verse 3

What’s better than one billionaire? Two
I’ll be damned if I drink some Belvedere while Puff got CÎROC”

He also mentions the “Becky” from the Lemonade album in the first line of the third verse saying, “let me alone, Becky.” He also manages to slip in an Al Sharpton selfie reference as they said the album didn’t get turned in until Thursday morning before it dropped the next day.

“Al Sharpton in the mirror takin’ selfies
How is him or Pill Cosby s’posed to help me?
Old niggas never accepted me”

And this line explains why he shouted out so many new school artist and kind of took a stand for them as well when he says, “old niggas never accepted me” he can relate to the new generation of Rap being criticized so much by older generation of hip-hop.

Track 7 – ‘Bam’ ft. Damian Marley

‘Bam’ brings us back to the ego of Jay-Z. His first two lines are Shawn was on that gospel shit
I was on the total fuckin’ opposite” letting us know that the lyrics on the personal, family aspects of the record were rapped by Shawn Carter with the braggadocious bars being spit by the ego of Hov. He speaks on people “talking crazy under them IG pictures” which has been the wave of clapping back and responding to beef these days. He raps about his twins and how he can’t take those threats as he just gives us a track with more bars and flow than content with lines like

“Before we had A&R’s, we had AR’s too”

 and

“Put that drum in your ear, don’t get Srem’d
I’ll Bobby Shmurda anybody you heard of
Niggas could not be further, I fathered your style”

He’s talking about a drum on a gun that he puts to your ear but uses Rae Sremmurd, which is “Ear Drummers” backwards and is also Mike Will Made-It label.

“Uh, niggas is skippin’ leg day just to run they mouth
I be skippin’ leg day, I still run the world”

This seems to be another subliminal shot towards Kanye West from a song called ’30 Hours’ where Ye raps, “I hit the gym, all chest, no legs” and Ye also went on a rant during a concert where he mentioned Jays name.

Track 8 – ‘Moonlight’

Having Mahershala Ali in the promo trailer and possibly the 4:44 film, it was only right to have a song titled ‘Moonlight’ named after the movie Mahershala Ali won over 205 awards including 3 Oscars. The hook to the song is a nod to the Oscars mishap that happen involving “La La Land” and “Moonlight”

“We stuck in La La Land
Even when we win, we gon’ lose”

When “Moonlight” won the Oscar for best picture there was a slight controversy. Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway awarded the wrong movie “La La Land” as the winner for best picture when they opened and read the wrong envelope having a Steve Harvey moment. So, the hook says, “even when we win, we gon lose” saying even though we won the Oscar for best movie we lost as well seeing as that was the first reaction when they awarded the wrong movie. Also, being stuck in “La La Land” could speak to the mind state that black people and the decisions we make as a culture with lines like

“Y’all got the same fuckin’ flows”

“Y’all fuck the same fuckin’ chicks”

Hearing Jay rap about rappers having “the same fuckin flows, I don’t know who is who” is a problem a lot of hip-hop fans have with the game today saying majority of the rappers have similar flows and sound alike. The second line saying “yall fuck the same fuckin hoes” is another thing fans noticed about the rap game is how rappers and athletes keep dating the same 5-6 women lol, we all know who they are without name dropping. Other lines such as

“Stop walkin’ around like y’all made Thriller, huh?
Fake Draco’s all in the videos”

“Givin information to the pork, that’s all spam, please don’t talk about guns, that you ain’t never gon use, yall always tell on yourself, I’m just so fuckin confused”

As Jay raps speaking on the “La La Land” mind state of the rap game by artist telling on themselves thru Instagram, posting fake dracos that Jay says they’ll never use. He also mentions the deals artist are still signing saying they haven’t learned from previous artist such as Lauryn Hill and how they’ll have to pawn off all their jewelry when the labels run off with their masters. This track ‘Moonlight’ speaks to the rap game today and the current mind state of a lot of rappers in the game.
Track 9 – Marcy Me ft. The Dream

‘Marcy Me’ takes us back on a journey not just thru Marcy Projects where Hov grew up but also takes us back to Hov’s thought process growing up here and the events taking place. Giving us lines like

And Jam Master Jay was alive I was mixin’
Cookin’ coke in the kitchen
Back when Rodman was a Piston
Mike was losin’ to Isiah, but he soon would get his sixth one”

These lines set the tone for the track taking us back to how things were when Jay was growing up, not just by the events taking place in this song but also what he was involved with at this time. At the time when “Lisa Bonet was Beyoncé of her day” and “Slick Rick made Mona Lisa” these were the events taking place during Jays adolescence. With Jay also dreaming of what he could be when he grows up Jay raps

“Gave birth to my verbal imagination
Assume a virtue if you have not
Or better yet here’s a verse from Hamlet
“Lord, we know who we are
Yet we know not what we may be”
So maybe I’m the one or maybe I’m crazy

I’m from Marcy Houses, where the boys die by the thousand

These lines speak to the thoughts Jay-Z had on his future growing up in Marcy, saying “maybe I’m the one or maybe I’m crazy” and “we know not what we may be” saying he felt like he was the one or maybe he’s crazy because boy forms his hood die by the thousands so what would make him the one, maybe he’s just crazy. These are thoughts that a lot of young black men have growing up as we try to rise to the top from such bad circumstances.

Track 10 – Legacy

Legacy’ starts off with Blue asking “daddy, what’s a will?” Which is exactly what this track is, a lyrical will for lack of better words. On this track Jay speaks to Blue and speaks on everything that she could be and everything that he could leave behind for her. His opening lines speak to leaving Blue money that she could share with the rest of the family and how Blue could start institutes and foundations for others. He also spoke on leaving being able to leave her Tidal and D’USSÉ rapping “generational wealth, that’s the key.” Generational wealth is something black families have lost and if you ask most that has been one of the biggest setbacks for blacks all around the world where he also raps speaking specifically to that saying

My parents ain’t have shit, so that shift started with me

‘Legacy’ lets us know where Jays mindset is with his family trying to “start a society, within a society, that’s major, just like the negro league” speaking to when blacks had our own. From our own communities, even down to our own professional leagues. We’ve gotten to a point where instead of building our own we’ve been conditioned to separate from each other and work for others. I mean could you imagine a society with just black people where we controlled our own, policed our own communities and ran our own professional sports teams and not play for them. How dope would that be.

Conclusion

Hov still got it. Not that I questioned it but many did. Many questioned not just what type of music we would get from Jay at this point but would his flow and beat choice hold up and it definitely does. This album is not for the turn up crowd. It’s not for the typical “mumble rap” fan and could very easily go over listeners heads with some of the financial talk. But none the less Hov gave us “a million dollars worth of game for $9.99.” Hov gave us content in a time where rappers literally rap about nothing. There’s a lot of music out today that you listen to and come away with absolute nothing but a want to get high. This album is a breath of fresh air for old school hip-hop fans when we listened to music to actually come away with something. Jay-Z touches on not just his personal life, dealing with his infidelities and mothers sexual preference. But he also gave us game on real estate, building up black communities, generational wealth, to saving money and investing. He gave us current events from ‘Moonlight’ to Al Sharpton selfies. For the younger artist, I hope they can listen to this and realize you can actually have content outside of junky lean talk. This album gives us everything except a true club banger, which honestly, I don’t need from Hov right now. Jay-Z gave the game exactly what we’ve been missing, content and hope. I rate this album 4.5/5 or better yet 🎤🎤🎤🎤. Can I do that? I’m giving out mics. Stay on the lookout for my mid-year awards where we talk about the best albums of the year so far, best songs and what we should look forward to in the second half of
this year.

Brandon Lucas

Twitter & IG | @takeyourcooloff 📝|writer 🎞|editor 🕹|producer 🎬|director 📸|photographer 🎤|host Kontrol Mag Writer brandonlucas.kontrolmag@gmail.com

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